Why fire a coach with one year left on his contract, one with a 311-163-66 record—all with the Sharks since 2008-09? Because hockey is an unfair business, most definitely for coaches. Only Claude Julien and Mike Babcock have more seniority among NHL coaches than McLellan.
But it's time.
The Sharks remain such an enigmatic franchise. All they do most every regular season, to adoring, sold-out crowds, is win. They have had so many genuine gamers for players, ranging from Patrick Marleau to Joe Pavelski to Teemu Selanne to Joe Thornton. They are good stewards of the game for their league and their community.
It truly comes as a shock, therefore, that this team has never played for the Stanley Cup. Something just goes wrong every year at the wrong time. Unlike the last 11 years, though (not including the lockout year of 2004-05), the Sharks are not even in the playoffs.
Is that all McLellan's fault? Of course not. Will it be fair if he's fired? Arguably not. The Sharks have never had a losing season under him. Nobody said hockey was fair. Look at all the good coaches who have been fired after having done more in the playoffs recently than McLellan. New Jersey made the Finals in 2012, and already Pete DeBoer is gone from behind the Devils bench. Alain Vigneault took Vancouver to a Game 7 in Vancouver in 2011, and he was fired a couple of years later.
The low point for the Sharks franchise was the 3-0 blown series lead to Los Angeles in the first round last season. No question about it, that was the worst.
Hockey experts then like me got drawn into believing that finally it was the year of the Shark. A 3-0 lead on a team that looked tired and worn out as it was, against the cross-state rival—what could go wrong? Four straight Kings victories later, the answer was: everything.
Yet, McLellan was not fired. Neither was his general manager, Doug Wilson. For many owners, a 3-0 series, yes, choke would prompt underling dismissals before the papers hit the the next morning.
So, good on the San Jose Sports and Entertainment Enterprises Group (need just a touch more corporate feel to that name, guys) for giving McLellan and Wilson one more chance.
The chance has passed. The Sharks missed the playoffs. Not just that, there was public disharmony in the ranks. That's rare in hockey.
Late in the season, Wilson was seen by some Sharks season-ticket holders as bad-mouthing Thornton. Yeah, it was blown out of proportion some by the media probably ("I'm shocked, shocked to find that there's gambling's going on in here"), but he said the words, and Freud taught that the subconscious always percolates somehow to the conscious.
Thornton, to the genuine shock of any reporter of a mainstream publication anymore, ripped right back at Wilson, saying to the News, "Doug just needs to shut his mouth."
Wilson and Thornton attempted a "nothing to see here, move on" public-relations stance quickly after, but nobody really bought it.
Is it McLellan's fault Thornton and Wilson sniped at each other? Probably not. But could it have been an example that perhaps McLellan had lost some control over his dressing room and/or his biggest star player? Arguably, yes. Nobody has any concrete proof of that, but perceptions matter.
Thornton had his captaincy stripped before the season, with McLellan telling CSN Bay Area, "We're going to re-establish the hierarchy and the culture in the organization."
Thornton then told the San Jose Mercury News, "It's a big honor and a big responsibility, so it's a little strange when they take it away from you."
Did a rift open between Thornton and McLellan from that point forward, with Wilson later earning Jumbo Joe's wrath? The parties seemed to say no, but you have to wonder.
McLellan told the Mercury News on Monday that he would be spending time with his family over the following 72 hours, until it was expected Wilson would make a statement on his future.
What's best for McLellan is no doubt best for his family. So, if he keeps his job with a good organization in a great part of the country, more power to him.
Time, however, is finite. Cut that in half, and you get the approximate life span of an NHL coach.
Adrian Dater has covered the NHL since 1995. Follow him @Adater.